Small Wars Journal

The All-Volunteer Force: The Debate

Fri, 07/09/2010 - 10:52am
The All-Volunteer Force: The Debate

by Lieutenant Colonel Paul Yingling

Download the full article: The All-Volunteer Force: The Debate

I'd like to share with SWJ readers the debate I've been having with current and former senior defense leaders on the deficiencies of the all-volunteer force.

This past February, I published "The Founder's Wisdom" in Armed Forces Journal. While the article addressed many aspects of Congressional and popular oversight of national security issues, the issue that provoked the strongest reaction was the portion concerning the all-volunteer military.

Raising an Army is not merely a matter of labor economics - finding the right combination of wages, benefits and marketing strategies to fill job vacancies. Raising an Army is a profoundly political act with profoundly political consequences. The issues of who fights and who pays for America's wars are ultimately questions about our conceptions of justice and civic obligation. My hope is that our debate about the merits of the all-volunteer force will move beyond questions of wages and benefits, and focus on these larger issues of justice and civic obligation.

As this "short-term struggle" approaches its tenth year, cheerful portrayals of the AVF are no longer plausible. It's time for the United States to reconsider the wisdom of the all-volunteer force.

I look forward to the always superb commentary by SWJ readers on this debate, and I hope that Dr. Gilroy and Mr. Ford will join us.

Download the full article: The All-Volunteer Force: The Debate

Lieutenant Colonel Paul L. Yingling is an Army officer who has served three tours of duty in Iraq and is currently a professor of security studies at the George C. Marshall Center in Garmisch, Germany. The views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Army or Defense Department.

About the Author(s)

Paul L. Yingling is a colonel in the U.S. Army and a professor of security studies at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies.  The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, the Department of Defense, or  the U.S. Government.



Mon, 07/26/2010 - 8:45pm

I'm thinking that it would have been a net minus if Warren Buffet had been a Reservist and taken a leave of absence from Berkshire to deploy to Kuwait in 1990.

And yes, Harvard and Yale are now on my list. But if they play against Columbia, I'll root first against Columbia.

Eric Chen

Mon, 07/26/2010 - 11:21am


I agree with you about Marines OCS, though I believe a program physically located on campus has its advantages.


"People with a talent for creating wealth best serve the nation by doing just that, rather than doing what they are less talented at and less passionate about."

That's it - you framed it as an either/or split, moreso by adding "simultaneously" in the later response. Yet a reason some of us want more Ivy Leaguers in uniform in the post-9/11 environment is their potential and capacity to do more, both as officers and beyond either/or.

Putting aside Yingling's broader vision for why more of the type should serve, our economy is a multi-faceted creature and careers can be long and winding. I don't know that Alexander Hamilton ever ran a mom and pop or worked as a corporate VP while putting on and taking off the uniform as a founding father, but his career certainly created wealth for the nation. Practically, the obvious way an officer can do both is as a reservist with a civilian and military career. Over a long career, an officer can start active duty and move to a non-military career, and perhaps be called back later. Less relevant to ROTC, though still applicable to grad students and planting seeds in undergrad minds, some folks go to the uniform later in life. Along the way, networks and interpersonal connections will be made that reach back to the greater military and Ivy League communities, eventually forming a robust Ivy League military community.

As far as loathing my Alma Mater, oh well. It doesn't bother me since you seemed to enter this discussion with a dedicated bias against a system where more Columbians and Ivy Leaguers would be incentivized to serve, whether by draft compulsion or campus access to ROTC. If it helps, you can substitute another name like Yale or Harvard for Columbia in this thread, although Columbia ROTC advocacy includes the ROTC in NYC argument that other Ivies do not.


Mon, 07/26/2010 - 1:28am


Three things.

1. I pledge from now until eternity to root against Columbia in every athletic, academic, and other extracurricular endeavor it participates in. You are forcing me to loathe that institution.

2. What false choice did I propose?

3. You typed, <em>"We can have officers who are both."</em> I am not sure what you are referring to by "both." Both what? The only thing I see that I typed that you may be referring to is my statement that, <em>"People with a talent for creating wealth best serve the nation by doing just that, rather than doing what they are less talented at and less passionate about."</em>

If that is what you were referring to, then please explain how one can both exercise one's talent for creating wealth while simultaneously doing the opposite.

It would be easier to follow the Marine route and use OCS to access Officers. They get more of their Candidates from the cities than we do, and they get more Officers from OCS than we do, as a percentage.

Eric Chen

Sun, 07/25/2010 - 10:40pm


You offer a false choice. We can have officers who are both. I believe COL Yingling is calling for officers who are multidimensional contributors to society. I agree. Where we differ is that Yingling seems to believe we need a draft to get the type. I believe a draft is premature; we should first instate ROTC on the campuses (eg, the Ivy League) where the type go to school in order to provide them fair access and incentives to serve.

A reason I advocate for Columbia ROTC is that the role model of the Columbia military officer is Alexander Hamilton. What does that mean? First, Hamilton's influence on the economic course of our nation is second to none. But more, Hamilton's intertwining career as statesman and soldier exemplifies service and leadership in and out of uniform. Hamilton had the kind of multidimensional career that Columbia officers aspire to and Yingling wants more of.


Sat, 07/17/2010 - 11:54am

Upon further reflection, and accepting for the sake of argument the assumptions that COL Yingling makes (most of which I reject), I still think he's wrong.

Our military power derives in large part from our economic power. People with a talent for creating wealth best serve the nation by doing just that, rather than doing what they are less talented at and less passionate about.

Yingling invokes the phrase "To whom much is given, much is expected." Indeed. This phrase is derived from the Bible:
<blockquote><em>"For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more."</em> - Luke 12:48 (KJV)</blockquote>

That does not mean that to whom much is given by God, much is to be expected by the state. Nor does it mean that to whom much is given by others, much is to be expected by the state. Nor does it mean that to whom much is given by the state, much is to be expected by the state through a specific mode of service. I suppose it's possible that Yingling didn't mean to invoke the authority of scripture in using that phrase, but that would ignore how that old adage derived its acceptance as a general truth.

And there's still the thorny issue of balancing personal freedom with the health of the state. Reinstating a draft is but one of many, many options to address the incompetence and corruption of our elected officials. But it happens to be the most extreme option that I am aware of, heavily favoring the state over the individual. As government continues to expand, in terms of debt, number of employees, size of the welfare state, expansion of government power, and so on, I think we really need to step back for a moment and consider whether we want to accelerate our slide down this steep slope.

The argument raised in many forums, and not just in the United States either, is that rich and powerful do not pull their weight in the defence of the country, if a service in the military is voluntary.

Similarly, when conscription or the draft is introduced the contention is that the wealthy and privileged elite find ways of getting out of doing military service. From the draft riots in New York during the War Between the States to Credence Clearwater Revival's song 'Fortunate Son', the perception that the sons of the rich and powerful are able to escape the draft has been ingrained into the American psyche.

The Credence Clearwater Revival line 'I ain't no fortunate one' encapsulates it nicely. I once marched on a parade to the song, Fortunate Son, which I thought was very radical of the Base Commander.

Ken White (not verified)

Mon, 07/12/2010 - 2:26am


That's a good question -- why do we have all these dumb laws?

Got no problem with smart laws, we need them -- but a lot of fluff and stupidity is on the books today. Haven't improved morality one ounce, either... ;)

slapout9 (not verified)

Mon, 07/12/2010 - 1:57am

I didn't raise the issue. I am simply in agreement with isssue as per Col. Yingling's article and for the same reasons he does.


Mon, 07/12/2010 - 1:19am


Yes, but I was curious why <em>you</em> want to focus on wealth and income. You've raised the issue more than once, but the relevance of those factors isn't as obvious to me.

slapout9 (not verified)

Mon, 07/12/2010 - 1:05am

If you don't legislate morality, what are we doing with all these laws?

Schmedlap, if you read Yingling's article he does mention the factors you mention as part of a proper selection system.

Eric Chen

Mon, 07/12/2010 - 12:42am


I hearya. As a young enlistee, I turned down my chance to become an officer in part because of the BS piled onto officers that I didn't want to deal with. Still, most jobs come with some degree of BS and officers get to lead soldiers and do some extraordinary things.

@Ken White: "You cannot legislate morality and you cannot legislate fairness."

But you can legislate access and incentives. It is certainly within Congress' purview to mandate and support ROTC in NYC and Columbia. LTC Yingling wants college age (male?) citizens from certain groups to be in uniform. But he takes a premature leap with conscription when we haven't yet tried placing ROTC on the campuses where these scions go to college. Set up ROTC at Columbia, properly resource it, add top-notch cadre, recruit students intelligently, provide them attractive incentives, and let's find out how many of the people Yingling wants will choose to serve without needing to subject the nation to a draft.

GI Zhou

Mon, 07/12/2010 - 12:35am


National Service (NS) in Singapore is still seen as a way of nation building but the issue of NS draftees with a car, phone etc, secure that Mum and Dad will assist their income etc, is an issue. Many become officers which harks back to the gentlemen-soldier mentioned earlier. Unintended class distinction anyone?

One issue with the annual training in Singapore were professional soldiers seething when national service reservists came in driving BMWs etc for their ost NS two week annual commitment, who are still privates. This resulted in a SNCOs leaving in droves until there was a major increase in pay for military professionals.

Many NS reservists see it as a good way to reduce their stress. A two week fitness and adventure camp with no decision making.

Secondly if you don't pay E1 to E3s properly you won't get the higher quality recruits once the economy gets back on its feet. Most people join for a job or for the benefits available after serving like education.

Be in no doubt, the US military is paid poorly compared to others, such as Australia.

I know one US Lieutenant Colonel that retired and now works for a Beltway Bandit so he can have a secure passive income for his retirement, college fund for his child etc. Once his wife had a child, and he became a single-income family, he had no choice but to retire and take his pension, so he could get another income source. His story is by no means unique. Many ex-SNCOs I know are/were in the same boat. These are not spenthrifts either.

I agree that compulsory service does not produce a military witha core of twelve to twenty year professionals. It leads to a repeating military of two to three year soldiers.

Ken White (not verified)

Sun, 07/11/2010 - 11:32pm

Dream world. You're trying to legislate justice -- which we already theoretically have. How's that working out for us?

Plus legislating civic concern? Good luck on that score...

You cannot legislate morality and you cannot legislate fairness. Life is inherently unfair due to the varying nature of humans. You cannot change that with laws. Nor can you change either of those topical issues by fiat. IMO, the issue of relating either a concern for justice or of civic obligation to military service, indeed any mandated service, is a very false premise.

Compulsory Military service short of an existential conflict is immoral commitment to servitude, it is wasteful and inefficient, it will add to costs, it could conceivably produce larger forces which inadvertently encourage more, not less military adventurism. On those grounds, it is actually in itself unjust and an abrogation of civic responsibility.

It is also almost certainly politically infeasible and rightly so...


How can you move beyond questions of wages and benefits when the sole way to use a draft to build a larger Army/Marine Corps is to reduce E-1 to E-3 pay?

You ultimately force the fat richer draftee kid to serve who still gets an allowance and car/insurance/cell phone paid for by mom and dad, getting the same lower wage as the enlistee active or guardsman with a pregnant wife living in a trailer somewhere. Only one is suffering from that lower wage.

I was once a young 1975 enlistee being asked by drill sergeants to loan money to married Soldiers running short at the end of the month because I was single and already making similar loans to others to make a $5 profit. Think that would be condoned in a future conscript Army with lower pay?


Sun, 07/11/2010 - 11:08pm


But when looking at the question of who fights and who pays, why do you choose to view it in terms of wealth or income? Why not some other factor, such as IQ, education, age, athleticism, or something else? What is it about wealth or income that is so significant?

slapout9 (not verified)

Sun, 07/11/2010 - 10:25pm

Ken and Schmedlap,
Quite simply it is about Justice and Civic Obligation. I have listed the section from Col. Yinling's paper that expresses it far more eloquently than I can.

"Raising an Army is not merely a matter of labor economics - finding the right combination of wages, benefits and marketing strategies to fill job vacancies. Raising an Army is a profoundly political act with profoundly political consequences. The issues of who fights and who pays for America's wars are ultimately questions about our conceptions of justice and civic obligation. My hope is that our debate about the merits of the all-volunteer force will move beyond questions of wages and benefits, and focus on these larger issues of justice and civic obligation."


Not everyone wants to sign up to got to war. People who join the 'civil progessive' type organisations can leave pretty much after two years or what ever contract and that's it. No reserve taining or call up implications.

Not all Ivy League students are from the 'upper classes' either - in fact a fair proportion are not. I am referring more to the elite universities in my discussion.

Finally, you forgot the peacetime/garison (for want of a better term) Shirty litle jobs (SLSs) type duties such as duty officer, oic basket weaving club, computer based training courses etc which suck up a junior officers time when not in teh field deployed or undergoing face to face training courses.

Why would you become one logically. I retired as a SNCO by the way. Stuff all the crap a junior officer goes through when you are over 35 with a family

Eric Chen

Sun, 07/11/2010 - 9:16pm

@anonympus: "Perhaps 'shudder' the officer-gentleman wasn't such a bad thing."

Not such a bad thing when officers have to fulfill simultaneous roles as war-fighters, diplomats, peace-builders, and peace-keepers.

Eric Chen

Sun, 07/11/2010 - 8:38pm

@anonymous: "If you look at what professionals earn as doctors, lawyers, dentists, accountants, and vetenarians earn; why would you join the military?"

Ivy Leaguers should be facially attracted to officership for similar reasons that Ivy Leaguers are attracted to other "civil progressive" selfless service programs like Teach for America, the Peace Corps, community organizing, NGOs, etc.. The "civil progressive" character of military service is prominently featured in 'AWOL', by Roth-Douquet and Shaeffer, which Yingling referred to in his original post.

The key point I'm trying to make responding to LTC Yingling is that, while we usually blame upper class people, the Ivy League, and the like for opting out of military service, the military actually shares the blame for the disparity that Yingling laments. If we're going to blame upper class people and elite universities for opting out of officership, then we also need to blame the military for denying those people and universities the fair access and opportunity to opt into officership through ROTC on campus. If the military makes an honest effort to reach out and recruit by properly investing in ROTC at Columbia and similar schools, and is then rejected, then LTC Yingling would have a better convincing case for conscription.

Eric Chen

Sun, 07/11/2010 - 8:15pm

Donnelly's response to LTC Yingling in the other post does point out that Yingling seems to be conducting different discussions.

On the practical side, I believe achieving the benefits associated with conscription can at least be attempted with the AVF intact by properly investing in ROTC at universities like Columbia in NYC that are currently neglected by ROTC. The folks of the upper class whom Yingling wants in uniform - whether they're defined as top 1%, 10%, or X% - may be out of popular reach for most of their lives, but they all still go to college, normally at schools like Columbia. If we want to criticize upper class people for not serving, then we need to criticize the Army for denying them ROTC. ROTC is the realistic gateway to military service for college-bound people from that group and any college-bound demographic, yet ROTC is entirely missing at most of the universities the upper class attend. Before taking the sweeping radical step of a universal draft, at least try the reasonable step of providing properly supported ROTC programs on the campuses where upper class people spend their formative years. The Army should give them the same fair opportunity to join the Army through ROTC and/or form lifelong relationships with future officers that students at other schools in other regions take for granted.

In a different discussion, LTC Yingling also seems to be advocating for conscription as a means to check both executive and the nation's decision-making on military missions. During the Bush admin, Rep Charles Rangel made the same argument as Yingling does now. That draft discussion is about more than the military and demands a wide-ranging discussion on the American role in the world and a hindsight analysis of OIF. All I want to say about that is we shouldn't claim ends if we refuse to commit to the means, and if we agree on the ends, it is worthwhile to find more sustainable means to achieve those ends. On Iraq, what we've learned about the Iraq mission since 2003 is very different from where we stood with Iraq in 2002: Carter/Reagan doctrine, Weinberger/Powell doctrine, al Qaeda using our 1991-onward Iraq mission as its chief rallying cry, provocative garrison in Saudi Arabia, SecState Albright saying 500k dead Iraqi kids under sanctions is worth it, no fly zones, UNSCOM inspections with burden on Saddam to lift Iraq containment, indefinite course after Iraq Liberation Act and Op Desert Fox, etc.. Bush didn't gin up a cause for war with Iraq - he inherited the cause of war from his father and Clinton; in 1998, Clinton declared Iraq had "failed its last chance", pulled the inspectors, and bombed Iraq (without UN permission), which was definitely an act of war. More, it's not Bush's fault he inherited a military still traumatized by Vietnam, and so good at war yet so bad at occupation. For all the things for which Bush can be blamed, he should be given credit for empowering GEN Petraeus and his 'jedi knights' to try to fix the huge gaps in our military's capabilities.

I am being anonymous on this one as it is a public forum. I was in the Australian Defence Force and my comments apply on the US and other militaries.

I dropped out to join the military with very high Year Eleven scores, and there were no millionaires at the public school I went to. I served 28 years and my wife 11 although in different forces.

Observations from a 30 year academic and military career. The perception of the US military by many students and academics, from the New England area students I have spoken to, is that the US Army is generally a white officer led force with minorities and poor white trash/rednecks filling up the ranks. Members of other forces have commented on this is as well, and it could equally apply to the ADF when I was in it.

Now to colleges. I have been a researcher at an Ivy League university, as well as a PhD student at the Australian Defence Force Academy and at a prestigious Australian university. These are my observations and no-one elses. This is not a comment about their quality as officers only their academic backgrounds.

Only during times of the draft do you get a truly representative military. The military; other than people wanting to be the next 'Top Gun', civilian airline pilots, or civil, naval and aeronautical engineers (where else to you get to blow things up); rarely gets the best and brightest. I can only envisage it getting worse. If you look at what professionals earn as doctors, lawyers, dentists, accountants, and vetenarians earn; why would you join the military?

We have told our children to stay out of the military initially anyway. Unless you are aircrew, a submariner or SF, the pay is crap compared to the civilian world. We have told them get a degree, travel around the world, build your wealth and then go in if they wish. They should make better officers because they have life experiences outside the military, have traveled, and as it is generally very difficult in the first few years in the military (combat postings aside) to get ahead financially, they can concentrate on their career in the military with their finances secure.

Perhaps 'shudder' the officer-gentleman wasn't such a bad thing.


Sun, 07/11/2010 - 4:43pm

Ken White nailed it. Bookmark that one.

COL Yingling,

You've identified the problem as one of Congress not exercising sound decision making as a body. Not everyone agrees with that. Lacking significant consensus on the problem, you're not likely to get many converts for your solution.


<em>"All I want to see them do is what the founding fathers did...."Pledge their lives and their fortunes" just like the founding fathers did no more, no less.</em>

They pledged their lives and their fortunes only in that the new state was facing an existential threat and their fortunes rose or fell with it. The fortunes of today's wealthy elite would likely rise and fall with our state if we ever encounter another existential threat. Whether their lives will be at stake depends upon the nature of the enemy. Until then, drafting them isn't going to change that.

I'm still not clear on why wealth is such a salient issue in this matter. It seems to be motivated by imposing something upon wealthy people, rather than improving the military or helping the country. That's generally known as "class warfare" so maybe you'll succeed in dragging them into some type of war after all.

Ken White (not verified)

Sun, 07/11/2010 - 3:31pm

<b>Slapout9:</b><blockquote>"...but a national service draft in which you have a choice in where to serve, choice is what the American system is about..."</blockquote><blockquote> The cry of involuntary servitude is no substitute for citizenship responsibilities ... After a suitable payback period they can then strike out to make their fortune or stay in service."</blockquote>We can disagree on most of that. I will point out that the first quote with which I partly agree (the Choice bit) counters the second -- most of which I do not agree with -- and makes that second one really questionable... ;)

We are too large, too diverse and have too many people to ever make National Service work with any semblance of fairness. With a little over 4M people, male and female, reaching 18 annually, we can neither afford to compensate, house and feed them nor can we offer even the 70% or so who are physically and mentally fit truly productive work. National Service is a good fit for a small nation or even a mid sized developing nation. It simply will not work in a large, diverse, open post modern nation.

Given those issues, a lottery or some such variant will be required to produce a manageable number of entrants annually, thus by definition, it will be unfair and some will not do their 'public service.' Even were a majority of the able be employed, the less able (politically defined) will not serve. It is an inequitable idea.

It puts people into 'make work' jobs and that will likely do more to turn off any civic feelings than to enhance them and the last thing we need is a bunch of 18-19 year old Cops (shudder...) or Paramedics. Can't use most of 'em for Teachers Aides, we've dumbed down our schools to the extent that most would be little help...

Zip code analysis is imperfect but collecting income data is notably imprecise using any method. The point that those serving today are not the deprived or underclass is proven in a variety of ways.

I'm curious. What, precisely would be proven by a survey indicating the percentage of those from the top 1% of the wealthiest Americans serve in the Armed Forces?

A further question. Do we mean the top 1% of the wealthiest -- or members of the families of the top 1%? Two different batches of people there. In any event, if you do such a survey, can the historical data be obtained in order for that data to be moderately meaningful?

I have little doubt that percentage is not terribly high, given the pay scale, the hassles of service, the living conditions, I wouldn't expect many to wish to pursue the occupation. Not a problem to my mind, there are too many serving now who do not really want to be there -- some in high places. BTW, if anyone thinks that forcing more of the really wealthy to serve would result in any significant change to their attitudes and actions or the wealth picture in general, I have a really nice Bridge for sale...

Interesting that you mention a political party. Since all parties are IMO venal and corrupt, I have no truck with any of them and I routinely vote out incumbents. All that is appropos of nothing because this <u>should</u> be a totally apolitical issue.

However, it will not be because each Party will manipulate it to their own ends which will vary over time. Many fans of National Service and military conscription often forget that aspect. That's a primary reason for the halt of the Draft in 1973. Some also forget the strange roles of Presidents Ford and Carter...

slapout9 (not verified)

Sun, 07/11/2010 - 2:46pm

Ken and Schmedlap,
you probably want believe this but I am a card carrying Republican at least until the last election, when after the disaster of Bush the second, the thought of Mama Grizzly being a heartbeat away from seeing Russia was just to much. We haven't had a real republican president since Nixon(he understood the wisdom of Galbraith)and I see no sign of that changing.

As for your comment on the draft I agree with most of them. As you pointed out I come from that era and have had some experience with it. My brother was trying to get out of the draft and I was trying to volunteer so why not just swap. Age differences was the reason but it all worked out in the end.

I love the second link you posted because one of there analytical techniques is zip code analysis,which nearly 30 years ago is how I became interested in the non-elected,non-accountable ruling elite of this country. In short the people who can pay high rents are not the problem, the people that COLLECT(owners) them are the problem. It is the 1% that are the problem.

All I want to see them do is what the founding fathers did...."Pledge their lives and their fortunes" just like the founding fathers did no more, no less.

As for a draft in general I do believe in it. But not just a military draft but a national service draft in which you have a choice in where to serve, choice is what the American system is about. The cry of involuntary servitude is no substitute for citizenship responsibilities. In fact we should pay people to go to school (any school not just college) and be paid for it no matter what service area they want to serve in,just like the service academies do. After they complete training they should serve wherever the demands of the Republic are greatest just as the military does. After a suitable payback period they can then strike out to make their fortune or stay in service.

Colonel Yingling,
If you need help in finding studies of inequality in the American system let me know and I can provide some contacts. I am chomping at the bit to see if DOD will do the study you recomended on the 1%ers!

Eric Chen

Sun, 07/11/2010 - 1:53pm

LTC Yingling,

Thank you. Using your guideposts, I wish to clarify my response regarding the Army's practical avoidance, as far as recruiting officers, of New York City's college students, arguably the deepest officer candidate pool in the country.

Representativeness. I understand citing the Columbia name automatically associates a framing of wealth and privilege. However, ROTC in NYC would open a larger range of diversity to the Army than just wealth and privilege. There is a substantial value-added basis for ROTC in NYC: cultural diversity, social diversity, lingual diversity, regional diversity, urban cosmopolitan diversity - name it and ROTC in NYC would boost the Army with it. Every year, hundreds of thousands of college students arrive in NYC from throughout the country, with smart and talented cream-of-the-crop types concentrated at Columbia. In addition to strong liberal arts programs, Columbia has one of the best engineering schools in the country.

Size. I agree that present campaigns have shown expanding the Army is necessary. If expanding the Army is the need and finding additional officers is the problem, the easy solution is the vast untapped resource of New York City. Conversely, present day, a chief justification from ROTC officials for rejecting ROTC in NYC is that theres no urgent need because ROTC is meeting its annual accessions targets, which are based on the current size of the military. Therefore, say ROTC officials, expanding ROTC in NYC under the current accessions cap would require shrinking ROTC somewhere else. Add 100K-200K soldiers to the Army, and ROTCs present excuse to avoid NYC goes away.

Quality. A popular argument for conscription is that the drafted 'greatest generation WW2 force included more Columbia-caliber recruits, and you imply conscription is the way to bring back that level of quality to the Army. Again, I contend that conscription is premature when the Army currently avoids recruiting officers from NYC and urban NE universities. Before conscription, the Army should try the reasonable step of investing in ROTC at Columbia and other top northeast universities: if you build it, they will come. If the Army makes an honest attempt investing in ROTC at Columbia and Columbia cadets dont come, then consider conscripting them.

See, which argues that ROTC at Columbia would be an excellent match for the needs identified in the 2010 QDR. Whereas the Army focuses on post-accessions development to find officers capable of increasing demands, I contend the potential of an officers career development largely depends on the quality of that officers pre-accessions (cadet) foundation. ROTC at Columbia would give officers with the necessary academic grounding to the Army. Almost by definition, the unconventional pairing of Columbia and military means that Columbia officers are critical outside-of-the-box thinkers.

Cost. The other main argument by ROTC officials against ROTC in NYC is the higher cost of ROTC in the region. Under present ROTC metrics, a Columbia ROTC cadet has equal value to an Anywhere ROTC cadet, which dissuades the Army from the higher cost of ROTC at NYC. But ROTC fails to factor how much Columbia cadets will be worth to the nation over the course of their military careers.

Civil-military relations. Civil governance institutions have deep connections to Columbia and universities like Columbia. At an institutional level, and for future Columbia-graduate civilian officials and Army officers, civil-military relations would be boosted at the most granular level by ROTC vigorously interacting with Columbia everyday as a citizen of the campus. After all, the standard-bearer for the Columbia officer is the ultimate citizen-soldier, founding father Alexander Hamilton, and his leadership in and out of uniform.

Ken White (not verified)

Sun, 07/11/2010 - 1:01pm

<b>Paul Yingling:</b><blockquote>In this model, the state has first claim on the quantity and quality of manpower necessary to win the war.</blockquote>Totally applicable if one is in an existential war -- in an unnecessary war of choice? Probably not so much.

That's precisely why we have an AVF -- so that wars and expeditions of choice can be undertaken. The Weinberger and Powell Doctrines were foolish attempts to influence politics that were never going to work.

I find it fascinating that the US is today emulating the European model of strong social democratic public services and entitlements and that various folks are touting conscription at the time that Europe is realizing the flaws of their model and doing away with much of it, including conscription. Even the Swedes are dropping it...

As an aside Re: The Congressional Declaration of War. The Constitution says the Congress has the power to declare war but it specifies no method. No subsequent President has followed FDR's example for various reasons, mostly involving the political fortunes of their Party but a big reason for no 'declaration' of war is the large number of Statutes on the books which FDR's people enacted during WW II providing the Executive with draconian wartime powers that Congress is reluctant to unleash. Thus, subsequent Administrations and Congresses have been quite content to operate with Congressional Resolutions -- and continued funding of the wars -- as opposed to a formal Declaration.

Conscription legislation can indeed fix both quality and quantity requirements in law, and punish those who evade service. Forgive an old man for being cynical but my observation of the US political milieu leads me to believe your statement is technically correct and practically really humorous. It won't happen short of an existential war; it would be too unpopular with the pseudo intelligentsia and the monied crowd -- the big campaign donors.

Comparing the conscript Army of 1944 to the 'volunteer' Army of 1975 is cherry picking. Comparing the Army that went into the Kasserine Pass in 1942 with the Army that went to Baghdad in three weeks would be a counter. Both would be fallacious. A more apt comparison would be the Army of 1968 and that of 2008. Having experienced the former and seen the latter, it's no contest on capability in any aspect other than Mass.

What many proponents of conscription miss is that training of a conscript Army in time of nominal peace is severely degraded by political pandering to the Mothers of America who will not accept a one or two percent loss rate in training. They do not tolerate it well with the AVF but numbers are lower and the knowledge that all are volunteers assuages some angst on the subject. Simply put, even though our training, particularly of initial entry Officers and Enlisted people is mediocre, it is better than it has ever been. Add conscription to the mix of 24 hour news cycles and mass communication and I am certain that training would have to be scaled back in degree of difficulty. It is also interesting that while Draftees provided about 25% of the force in Vet Nam, they were about 30% of the casualties. Easily explained by the rank imbalance but not easily accepted by Mom and Pop.

Many proponents of conscription count as a benefit the acquisition of mass. It is a mixed blessing. Our ability to misuse people is legendary and one should really question whether a future with opponents able to purchase much of the same equipment that currently gives us a slight tactical edge is conducive to mass. I submit smaller units, far better training and more flexibility is a more survivable and effective approach than will be mass in the near future.

Also recall that the US is, theoretically, an egalitarian society. To get those upper income conscripts, you're also going to have to take some lower income conscripts. That, too will have an impact on training. We very foolishly adopted that Task, Condition, Standard BTMS system post Viet Nam -- due to the poor quality of the force in 1975 -- and as Shy Meyer's reforms kicked in, we did not modify our poor institutional training regimen to adapt to the significant increase in quality of intake. If we institute conscription, keep that deeply flawed training process and forget about the Army Learning Concept for 2015...

In the early stages of Iraq a booming economy and an unpopular war did indeed cause the Army to enlist an increased number of high-school dropouts and criminals. Being a High School dropout and having long served in an Army full of kids like that, my response is "so what?" Officers and NCOs have to work a little harder? That is <i>really</i> an insignificant issue. Some of those kids worked out quite well. As for labor economists, the Dismal Science is well named -- those guys are as bad as Doctors with their varied and conflicting opinions.

You say:<blockquote>"Its unwise to exclude the cost of unnecessary wars from a debate on paying for military forces to fight such wars."</blockquote>That implies you believe Iraq to have been an unnecessary war. That may be correct but I view it as a necessary <u>action</u> to offset the 'turn the other cheek' actions of four former Presidents from 1979 until 2001. Thus the action was undertaken but it arguably turned into a war that was largely unnecessary due to Intelligence failures before hand and US Army incompetence in Phase 4 (I know there were other factors but Army failures were the major problem). I submit that the 'war' in Iraq was not originally planned and thus that there would have been only minimal objection to the invasion on the part of Congress. Check the vote on the Resolution that 'allowed' it to occur. Had there been a Democratic President or had the Congressional majority been Democratic there likely would have been no such resolution...

In any event as most of our wars post WW II have been heavily based on US domestic politics, the cost of any war, necessary or not -- or of peacetime forces -- is a political football. Those costs are also well obscured by both DoD and Congress for a variety of reasons. I do not see that changing.

I agree the debate is worth having however, having served abroad in both a conscription padded -- it has never been majority conscripted since WW II -- force and an all volunteer force, I'm firmly convinced the latter is <i>adequately</i> capable, has the yet unrealized potential to be much more capable and it avoids involuntary servitude. Rhetoric of civic responsibility is nice but it is not really the US norm and there is a reason for that.

Paul Yingling

Sun, 07/11/2010 - 3:05am


Thanks for the terrific comments on the question of how Congress should raise military forces to fight protracted wars.

While conscription and voluntary service are not mutually exclusive, these options represent fundamentally different views of military service in time of war. The all-volunteer force treats military service as a matter of labor economics. In this model, the state fills the ranks of the Armed Forces by bidding for labor on equal terms with other potential employers. Conscription treats military service in wartime as a matter of civic obligation. In this model, the state has first claim on the quantity and quality of manpower necessary to win the war.

Ill do my best in replying to your comments, and hope that this dialogue clarifies the important issues youve raised. If I misstate your objections or omit any of those who made them, please let me know.

Political feasibility. (Charles Spiegelman, Scmedlap, COL Gentile, Tom Donnelly) The most common objection to conscription is that its very unpopular with the public. However, the very unpopularity of conscription is its greatest strength. Linking protracted wars to conscription requires political leaders to convince a majority of our countrys 300 million citizens on the wisdom of the proposed war aims. The AVF sets a far lower bar - to fight a protracted war with volunteers, we need only borrow enough money to induce just over 100,000 people per year to enlist.

Effect on strategic decision making. (Chip, Tom Donnelly, Torch, COL Gentile, Schmedlap, Torch.) Skeptics question whether a conscript force would constrain leaders from engaging in unnecessary wars, and often cite Vietnam as an example to the contrary. I view conscription of high-quality recruits without waiver or consideration for socio-economic status or political connections as one of three conditions to induce caution in our strategic decision-making. The other two are adhering to the Constitutional requirement for a Congressional declaration of war, and paying for the ensuing conflict through increased taxes and/or decreased spending in other areas. Its worth noting that FDR asked for all three measures prior to World War II, and that no subsequent president has followed his example.

Quality. (Charles Spiegelman, Chip, COL Gent ile, Anonymous, Cole, Ken White.) Opponents of conscription often claim that a conscript force will necessarily be of lower quality than a volunteer force. This argument is flawed on both logical and empirical grounds. Unlike the AVF, a conscript force need not accept whatever the labor market will bear. Conscription legislation can fix both quality and quantity requirements in law, and punish those who evade service. Moreover, the denigration of conscript forces is based on a selective reading of history. A more balanced view would acknowledge that the conscript Army of 1944 was far superior to the volunteer force of 1975. Such a view would also acknowledge that the quality of volunteer forces fluctuates based on economic and battlefield conditions. In the early stages of Iraq, a booming economy and an unpopular war caused the Army to enlist an increased number of high-school dropouts and criminals. When the 2008 recession hit, the military raised quality standards and cut bonuses.

Cost. (Schmedlap, COL Gentile, Ken White.) Labor economists argue that a volunteer force pays a lower cost for labor than a conscripted force because of increased retention, among other factors. However, these economic analyses do not factor in the cost of alternative strategic outcomes. Had Congress linked the invasion of Iraq to the imposition of conscription, I doubt very much that the United States would have gone to war. This conflict has already cost our country $700 billion, and its ultimate cost may exceed $2 trillion. Its unwise to exclude the cost of unnecessary wars from a debate on paying for military forces to fight such wars.

Size. (Tom Donnelly, Torch, Chicken Little). Only Tom Donnelly acknowledged that the AVF is too small, that the burdens of war are borne by too few, and offered a policy proposal to remedy these failures. He advocated increasing the volunteer force by 200,000 or more. This proposal is as laudable as it is implausible. The AVF competes in the labor market, offering enlistment bonuses nearly equivalent to Americas median household income to induce young people enlist. Dramatically increasing the AVFs strength would require equally dramatic increases in enlistment bonuses and further reductions in quality standards.

Representativeness. (Tom Donnelly, Slapout, Schmedlap, Eric.) The debate over the degree to which the most privileged Americans serve in our Armed Forces could be resolved in one keystroke. The Pentagon already defends the representativeness of the AVF by parsing recruit household income by quintile. I am unaware of any other economist or demographer who analyzes wealth using this measure. The accepted practice focuses on the top 1%, which owns 38% of our countrys wealth, and the top 10%, which owns 70% of our wealth. If senior leaders chose to do so, the Pentagon could answer conclusively the degree to which the wealthiest Americans fight our wars.

Civil-military relations. Tom Donnelly expresses concern about my adherence to the norms of civil-military relations. I appreciate this admonition, and hope others will call me out if ever I violate our obligation to respect and defer to civil authority. Let me reiterate my absolute commitment to civilian control of the military, and acknowledge the limited and subordinate role that military advice plays in formulating policy decisions. I believe that my defense of Congressional prerogatives to declare war, raise military forces and fund military operations is fully consistent with the norms of American civil-military relations. These constraints on executive authority are found in the US Constitution, and emerge from a historical suspicion of the pernicious effects of debt and standing armies on the health of a republic.

Ill close with a note of appreciation for the intellectual rigor and civility in this debate. Thanks very much to my friend and colleague Colonel Gian Gentile, long-time SWJ contributors Ken White and Schmedlap, Tom Donnelly at AEI, and all those who have commented, as well as our intrepid editor Dave Dilegge and publisher Bill Nagle. This debate is one worth having.




Sun, 07/11/2010 - 2:49am


Even if you are in the top 1% of income earners before joining, you won't be once you join. Your wage will be somewhere on that pay chart, which ain't gonna be top 1% anymore.

I don't know the cutoff for top 1%, but I do know of (no longer an acquaintance with) four millionaires in the Army (probably the 7-digit variety). One is a General, one is a field grade, two of them are enlisted and nearing retirement. I don't think their wealth made them better Soldiers, though I could be wrong.

I don't know why the wealth issue even matters. Even if no rich people serve, so what? As long as our units can kick ass when necessary, I don't care who they are or what their financial history is. If you can deploy worldwide to shoot people in the face, then I don't care how fat your wallet is. Just don't hold us up during the customs inspection.

Thanks, regarding the quote of the week win. I'm proud of the inaugural victory, as I suspect it will cement my legacy. Kind of like the legacy of Royce Gracie is secure because he won UFC 1.

Anonymous (not verified)

Sun, 07/11/2010 - 2:27am


Sorry about the bad link -- try this <a href=,000>LINK</a&gt;

Moving the old goalposts there? The issue was the fairness of the draft when it existed and if it were to again exist -- not how many of the well off are serving as volunteers today. That may be close to a big fat zero (I know it won't be zero, know too many serving people from high rent districts... ;) ) but I doubt it. Most of my Son's Platoon and Troop in the 82d for all his trips to this or that sandbox were suburban kids, a few with college. Here's another link for you that's been acknowledged to be pretty accurate: <a href=…;.

Old Bill Walton was a buck Sergeant in SOG and I've known and worked with a bunch of troops from well off families -- and that was all Infantry or SF...

On Congress, If you feel that way, I'm sure you always vote against incumbents. Good job.

slapout9 (not verified)

Sun, 07/11/2010 - 1:48am

Now Ken..... I new that was you as soon as you mentioned project 100,000. The link is broken by the way.

As to the draft being fair during Korea, don't doubt that. Elvis served (drafted) and he was in the 90% income tax bracket back when the Republican President new to raise the taxes of the Rich and never cut them.

As for Congress that is why I said they should serve or better still their children should serve as privates in the Infantry,not just serve in some cushy capacity. And while we are talking about Congress during times of war and recessions they should all be paid the minimum wage,live in public housing,use public transportation,use public health care,and use public education.I suspect the entire quality of life for all citizens would improve.

Ken and Schmedlap both.....lets not speculate why not just do as Colonel Yingling suggested...tomorrow morning conduct a study and find out just how many of the richest 1% of the nation are actually serving and require the results be published on the front page of every major newspaper and national TV news show for 3 days in a row. I bet it's a big fat zero or close to it.

PS.Schmedlap,congrates on your saturday night qoute of the week win.

Anonymous (not verified)

Sat, 07/10/2010 - 5:40pm

Gaaah. 4:39 is me, Slap...

Ken White

Anonymous (not verified)

Sat, 07/10/2010 - 5:39pm


If you rode with some of the last Draftees in the US Army, you rode with people from McNamara's Project 100,00 <a href=,000]>(LINK)</a&gt; -- a deliberate, social engineering attempt at Lyndon Johnson's behest which purposely (and stupidly...) targeted that underclass.

The Country Club set was very well represented by Draftees in Viet Nam until that foolishness started. Before 1970 for every slug who got out of going or whose family got him out of it, there were two or three people from all levels of US society who went and did what they had to do. Your comment is unfair to a lot of good kids -- who didn't get to pick their parents -- who went and didn't get to come back.

The myth that lower income folks serve and / or die in larger numbers than the better off is pure BS. Too many studies show the casualty figures generally track income quintiles.

That was also true in Korea. Any unfairness in the Draft was put there by those same Congressional types you think would show better judgment on going to war. Korea and Viet Nam proved that's a delusion.


Sat, 07/10/2010 - 1:14pm

I sharply disagree with slapout's last post. Encouraging lawmakers to participate in war will not make them any more prudent. It will simply attract wannabe warriors into the government - people who fancy themselves as modern day Caesars and Alexanders.

That said, I don't think we're in any danger of such a plan being adopted.

I also don't think representation of the upper classes in our volunteer military are as low as many perceive. I met more people from the upper class and upper-middle class in the Army (even more in the ARNG) than in the civilian world. Maybe that's a reflection of my lower-middle class upbringing and my current volunteer work that puts me in contact with less financially well-off individuals. I never got the impression in the Army that I was in a force unrepresentative of the nation. Ideologically and culturally, perhaps it was not representative. But in terms of economic opportunities prior to joining, socio-economic background - I think the military represents our nation better than any other.

slapout9 (not verified)

Sat, 07/10/2010 - 1:05pm

There is a much deeper issue here the responsibilities of "citizenship" vs. "country club membership". I rode the bus to BCT at Ft.Jackson,SC with some of the last draftees in the Army, some were literally in jail just a few days before. But all had one thing in common, by any rational measure they came from what people used to call the underclass because the "country club membership" could always come up with some type a scam to get out of the draft.

We should have a special draft just for the Billionaire Boys Club and Members of Congress. They should be required to serve as enlisted men/women in the Infantry....a guaranteed front row seat in the first assault wave.

If we do that I think you will find our judgment on when to go to war and when not to go to war will greatly improve.

Eric Chen

Fri, 07/09/2010 - 11:27pm

LTC Yingling,

The military must share the blame. Before we consider conscription to create a more equitably shared burden of military service, I believe the military's recruiting practices should be reformed. The military should invest much more and make better efforts reaching out to the groups you say are underrepresented in the military. IE, in terms of ROTC accessions, the military has virtually turned its back on the urban Northeast and specifically, New York City, despite that NYC houses the most college students in the country in some of the best-regarded universities in the world. An obvious and doable solution to the problem you pose, while preserving the AVF, is increase the military's access to currently under-recruited groups with simple steps like housing ROTC programs on Columbia University's campus. At present, though, ROTC practically avoids Columbia and NYC's population of college students; it's no wonder they're underrepresented.


LTC Yingling argues that a conscript Army would be employed more judiciously because our elites would have a political and possibly personal stake in its employment. Schmedlap identifies the socioeconomic role of the AVF and the political weight of the military industrial complex (thought he doesn't call it that). COL Gentile cites a fundamental problem with the willingness of our political elite to sanction open-ended employment of our military. Mr White argues (among other things) that LTC Yingling misses the capability gap between the conscript Army and the AVF.

As a Marine, I know that my own Service suffered badly as a conscript force in the late Vietnam era. I also know that our recent growth to 202,000- while larger than any Marine Corps in recent memory- is still too small for the deploy:dwell ratios that our senior commanders profess to be necessary. And I know that our leaders have grown a near-reflexive aversion to the idea I'm going to suggest:

Cut the military to the bone.

Historically, after each major conflict, the US military (Army and Navy) endured huge reductions in personnel and equipment. Entire fleets rusted at anchor in the Potomac (their bones are still there for canoeists to poke through) and massive numbers of soldiers demobilized. It absolutely hurt us when our Nation next faced aggression, but our two-ocean moat has bought us the time and space to react and rearm. And it prevented us from embarking on massive, open-ended colonial wars: after the Philippines insurrection, not even the invasion-happy Marines embarked on anything as ambitious in scope, because ours was a small military for fighting small wars and remaining ready for the Big One.

But at the end of the Cold War, with our sole peer adversary prostrate, we chose to keep a large standing military in arms. Rather than think about the economic cost of maintaining a large military, our leaders focused on the economic benefits of the defense industry, and the civilian jobs associated with maintaining the world's largest military.

And in the years since, all the administrations have seen fit to use the military in ways its founders would never have foreseen. The mere existence of a massive military has made it a tempting tool for the interventionist advocates of liberal and conservative administrations alike.

Maybe we should take that tool away.

I think it's time to do a real strategic review, not the quadrennial paper-chase that produces a vanilla document on which everyone can concur happily. Let's take a long, hard look at the eroded economic power of the United States and assess just what kind of military adventures we want to embark on. Where do our true strategic interests lie? And what kind of force do we need to secure them? What would a drastically scaled-down military look like? What's the pareto curve tradeoffs between national interests secured and military expenditure incurred? What do the military forces look like on each end of that curve?

What size active-duty force do we truly need to defend our borders and secure our strategic interest at the optimal rate? How would an Army optimized for ground combat against a peer adversary look? How would Reserve and Guard units augment it in time of major overseas war or national emergency, and what is the distinction between the two scenarios?

Do we really need 12 carrier battle groups in a future likely to be dominated by UAVs and cruise missiles? Can we project a global strike capability more effectively with a submarine-heavy Navy? Do we need to execute precision raids with NSW forces, and more anti-piracy missions? What ships would we need for that?

How many divisions and aircraft wings does the Marine Corps really need? What capability set does it provide that neither the Army nor the Navy could or should provide? What is the role of the Reserve in the Marine Corps, and can we look at maintaining only small units (company and below) that would augment active duty units and let their often-ineffectual augment the active duty staff sections during a major campaign?

What kind of capabilities does the Air Force need to bring into an increasingly automated era? I have to admit, as a ground-pounder Marine captain I'm not really competent to ask the right questions of the Air Force, but it seems to me they are the Service most heavily impacted by the emergence of UAVs but also have the best opportunity to make lasting changes to their mission set and structure as a result.

I think we need a serious discussion about the role and responsibilities of the US military as a Joint Force. I think our service cheifs need to think more broadly about the kind of force they can provide. I think our political leaders need to think more conservatively about the interests that justify the employment of our forces. And I think that there's no chance in hell this thinking will take place in the E Ring or the Russell Senate Office Building: there's no constituency for it.


Regardless of the soundness of arguments for or against a return to the draft, a couple of 21st Century American realities and elements of political correctness would hinder it for these reasons:

1) Women would need to be drafted in equal numbers with men

2) Weight and PT test standards in a society with overweight and unfit teens would need to be altered.

3) Education standards waived.

Can see it now. More kids getting fat at age 18 to avoid the draft. Other kids flunking out of high school on purpose. Suits filed to demand equal drafting of women.

Anonymous (not verified)

Fri, 07/09/2010 - 3:44pm

When Colonel Yingling's article of reknown appeared three years ago, I was an early sender of a congratulatory e-mail expressing thanks. Regrettably, I cannot do that with this article. I agree with most posters above.

On the military merits of a conscripted force, I'm agnostic. Generally, they perform adequately but in honesty little more can be said of the current volunteer force. Today's force, due to domestic political constraints, skewed priorities, disastrous personnel policies and a very flawed training system, certainly does not do all things well...

While today's volunteer force is short of its potential, it still is highly capable and is more capable per capita than a conscripted force would be -- due to continuity and length of experience if nothing else. While we do not do the continuity and unit integrity things very well, today's US Army will still outdo any conscripted force on those two factors. Any dreams of lengthy conscription periods, say two years or more are highly unlikely to ever be approved short of an existential war.

While I agree that in theory a conscripted force would encourage Congress to better assert its war powers, history -- Korea and Viet Nam -- show otherwise. Needed for Congress to be heard is simply some backbone.

Expansion of the Army to a size required to meet its comittments is a false premise. Parkinson's Law will obtain as it did during the Cold War. An Army that wastes manpower in times of peace and low end strength will do no better given a slight boost in manpower. It, in fact, will almost certainly be as wasteful as it was in the 1950-1970 period. Certainly since 1999 it has done little to better employ the people that serve other than contracting out some non combat sustainment tasks. It is possible to make a logical and valid case that the Army should be smaller and far more professional and competent while the Reserve Components should be larger and aimed at mobilization. However, that is not politically acceptable to either Congress or the senior leadership...

One could and should challenge the nominal 'fact' that we have today a professional force. A valid case can be made that it is emphatically not a professional force due to personnel policies designed to sustain a mobilization Army. Consider the fact that "Up or out" is an indictment of accession, selection and promotion policies that encourage mediocrity. Add to that a training process that would be acceptable -- not great, just acceptable -- for a mobilizing Army but that is totally unsuited for a professional force and one could almost assume that the US does not really want a truly professional force but is content to wander along and await a reason to mobilize.

Notably, in this as in most such articles and opinion pieces, the other armed services are not mentioned, a glaring oversight in all discussions of conscription. If the rationale is that those others have no problems in meeting manpower requirements, then by implication, the Army is simply not doing something properly...

If the rationale is that the Army can sustain the lessened quality engendered by conscription, that is terribly flawed. That aside from the fact that conscription will entail lesser overall quality of intake. Anyone who believes that a draft will take only the best and the brightest from all strata of society in equal measures really needs to contemplate that idea.

It is highly questionable that a conscripted force will be less expensive. That implies a dual standard of pay -- very un-American, that -- and less funding per person for equipping. I doubt the voters or their Representatives will stand for that. We have established a precedent of lavishly equipping -- some say over equipping -- every Soldier. That will prove to be a benchmark that will not be trifled with short of an existential war.

Colonel Yingling's strongest case for conscription is made on the basis of fewer recurring deployments. True for the Conscripts perhaps -- but what of their Officers and Noncommissioned Officers. Is an even greater ratio of leaders to led envisioned? Surely not. We are already over Generaled, over Officered, oversized on Staffs and overstrength on senior Noncommissioned Officers (that flawed personnel system again...), the worst possible thing conscription as posited in this article could bring is a further imbalance in the senior to subordinate ratio.

As I said, militarily, I'm an agnostic (that due only to our failure to achieve the potential effectiveness which was and is certainly possible but improbable). Politically and practically I'm beyond skeptical. This is just a bad idea. I spent over 20 years in a force with conscription. I spent another 20 plus in or with a volunteer force. With all the mostly self induced flaws of that volunteer force, it is an order of magnitude more capable in most -- not all -- aspects than was the half again larger conscripted force. Involuntary servitude is involuntary servitude and it is to be avoided unless there are no other options. Today we have many options, not least avoiding over commitment and commitment to specious missions for which the force is ill suited.

Ken White

gian p gentile (not verified)

Fri, 07/09/2010 - 2:15pm

Agree with Schmedlap completely.

Paul and I have gone back and forth on this over the past year or so and while I very much respect his service and scholarship, I think his argument is essentially a pipe dream that is based on a whiggish view of history that sees the glory days of civilian participation in World War II and hopes for those glory days to come around soon again.

But such a dream is politically unfeasible, so why even waste the energy in trying.

Most importantly a draft is not needed; what is needed is for military and political decision makers to take an appetite suppressant for their hunger to use the American military to fix failed states and societies in the troubled spots in the world.



Fri, 07/09/2010 - 2:04pm

What you see as a path to greater political participation, some see as reduced choice and greater government control over their lives. You and I chose the military, so it doesn't seem like a big deal to us. Others did not choose the military. Allowing the military to choose them is not likely to strengthen our republic, in my opinion. I don't think anyone perceives that we need a draft in order to survive. So it is now a matter of preference. To suggest that the preference outweighs the importance of freedoms that will <em>by necessity</em> be intruded upon seems like a losing argument to me. Using it to satisfy your idea about how political participation should manifest itself and how Congress should assert itself seems like an improper and even dangerous justification.

<blockquote><em>"... attributes necessary for todays wars: the ability to speak foreign languages and operate in foreign cultures, engage in complex moral reasoning about the use of force, as well as bear the heavy physical and psychological burdens of combat. Many of the young people who possess these attributes also demonstrate a low propensity to volunteer for military service."</em></blockquote>
Where did you get the data to support that assertion?

<blockquote><em>"Unlike the all-volunteer force, a conscripted force of citizen soldiers would ensure that the burdens of war are felt equally in every community in America."</em></blockquote>
You are not going to succeed in spreading "the burden" around. The upper class will use political connections, shop around for doctors, spend gobs on legal representation, and do whatever else is necessary to avoid service <em>if they don't want to serve</em> (some <em>do</em> want to serve - and <em>do</em> currently serve). Also, what about undocumented non-citizens - now a significant portion of our population? Among the lower class, what do you with thousands of people who simply do not report to the recruiting station? I suspect there is far less social pressure to conform today than in the 1940s and 1950s.

<blockquote><em>"... conscription enables the military to be more discriminating in selecting those with the skills and attributes most required to fight today's wars. Unlike the all-volunteer force, a conscripted force would not rely on exorbitant bonuses and reduced enlistment standards to fill its ranks."</em></blockquote>
So our interest in manning the military with <em>better qualified</em> individuals at allegedly <em>lower costs</em> trumps our interest in one's <em>freedom</em> to choose his or her employer? I don't think so, in the absence of a perceived existential threat. Also, how motivated are those people going to be if they don't want to be there? I would argue that one of the most important attributes required to fight "today's wars" is embracing the values of your service branch. You are not likely to get that by forcing people to join.

<blockquote><em>"... this approach would be less expensive."</em></blockquote>
I'd like to see the cost estimates.

<blockquote><em>"Imposing fiscal discipline on the Pentagon would not only strengthen America's depleted finances, but also constrain executive ambitions for adventures abroad and congressional appetites for pork-barrel projects at home."</em></blockquote>
As noted, your cost estimates would be interesting to see. But even accepting that they are accurate for the sake of argument, this last passage seems problematic. How does a draft rein in pork-barrel spending? Have you ever heard the re-election ads for Congressmen in Georgia and North Carolina? They make no bones about it. They vote for whatever brings military jobs to Georgia. Same is true in many other states. That's not pork-barrel spending? And it won't get worse with a larger force?

Brett Patron

Fri, 07/09/2010 - 1:33pm

If there is a "need" for a draft, I'd rather it be for a force that is focused, not on overseas defense (i.e. DOD), but homeland defense (e.g. border security). The investment could benefit DOD and/or the NG in that there'd be better trained candidates for a volunteer military via a transfer/enlistment. There'd also be a far better domestic support, since the force would NOT be a "tool" for someone's "War for Oil" and similiar rot.

Again, I don't advocate a draft. But if we must stipulate that it must occur, I'd like to see this idea given full consideration.

Brett Patron

Fri, 07/09/2010 - 1:32pm

I'm curious what the history is supporting the idea of a drafted force as a catalyst for success in an irregular warfare campaign.

To me, the far greater risk comes from a media, not particularly disposed toward OEF or OIF, and motivated to break a story, matched up with a drafted force that isn't not fully committed to effort.

Chicken Little (not verified)

Fri, 07/09/2010 - 1:26pm

Mr. Yingling,

"The U.S. should therefore abandon the all-volunteer military and return to our historic reliance on citizen soldiers and conscription to wage protracted war. This approach proved successful in both world wars and offers several advantages over the all-volunteer military."

I wish to add some points to the debate.

- America has always had an all volunteer force "CORE". All those conscript armies that fought in times of the nations need were built around this AVF to provide training and experience to the new units.

- Historically that core AVF has been small and under funded (pre-Korean war) justifying the need for a draft or conscription for the increase in manpower.

- The US is not planning to fight the next world war 2. The US is planning to fight the next Vietnam. There were some arguments against the draft at the time.

- The AVF used by England for its over seas expeditions and wars performed fairly well for some 300 years or so. This allowed for a conscript / national guard reserves to be used for home defense.

I apologies for being brief but I was attempting to keep the post as short as possible and my points are not fully explained.

The sky never falls.

Chip (not verified)

Fri, 07/09/2010 - 1:14pm

On paper with a positive academic mindset, a conscription force sounds like the answer to all our problems, but as charles stated above, implementation is very different than what may be on paper. I will also mention the difficulties of using a force which may have an even stronger lack of commitment to the conflicts that we are fighting than the volunteer one we have, now that it has been worn down by continual deployments which we have yet to see the full consequences of. Also in question is whether the US military is professionalized enough to win in Afghanistan, how could a conscripted force do better? Granted there are special cases in both realms, but I think you would find less professionalism and commitment from a conscript force in a long irregular conflict when public opinion of the country for the war is always becoming lower and small unpredictable challenges are publicized as unconquerable roadblocks to success and the starting point to failure.

On civic duty and where America should hold itself and its people in war is much different than it is. It is a sad fact but the majority of this country does not care enough to change their daily routine for a country on the other side of the world they never heard of, let alone endanger their lives for it. Since the all volunteer force was developed, I think we see the beginnings of a warrior class in America, especially among the officer corps where families are more likely to continue in the profession, than in the past. I think that is sort of becoming part of the selfless service aspect of the US military, "things we do so that others can continue to get fat and sit on their couch and be entertained by the news of our trials." That said there are many Americans that care and many that give so much for our military, but most have some type of direct connection to the military in some way, general population does not actually care. The issue is not whether the youth of the US all are forced to serve or not, the issue is why they dont feel obligated to in the first place? For example, with the job market so bad right now, if you had any inclination to serve the country in the military, now would be the time to do it and yet I don't think we will see a significant increase in recruitment.

Another thing to think about is how creating that deployable civilian force for COIN ops could be filled by those that are not interested in the "hooah" military type stuff but would still like to serve the country and help.

There is no other way around this unless you want universal commitment/draft in which every 18 year old in the country must either serve in the Military or some other form of service. How well will that go over, the rich kids will get off via special favores( politican kids especially). the Poor kids will love to join but lack the education and motivation needed for the demanding job of the military. I'm sorry Colonel the Vietnam experience and what happen afterwards shows that a Volunteer armed forces is the best way to go for our country, and as long as we are going to be world policmen for the foreseeable furture. But pay, compensation, duty honor country that is the question. Would you serve if you know your friends are making 3 times as much as you?